THEY’VE been hunting for a high performance director for years but with little success. Internal wrangling resulting in a costly court case had threatened to tear the association apart at one stage, but Athletics Ireland have finally got their man.
Yesterday they proudly unveiled Kevin Ankrom as the man to lead Irish athletics into what Ray Flynn, chairman of high performance, described as “a new realm”.
Ankrom, born in Jacksonville, Illinois, has all the credentials. He arrives in Ireland from New Zealand where he spent the last four years in a similar role, overseeing the country’s best team Olympic Games in 20 years in Beijing.
Before that he was performance manager with the Hong Kong Sports Institute, coached track and field and cross-country at North Carolina-Wilmington and Valparaiso universities and he was also junior performance manager and national team coach with the Bahrain national team.
Incidentally, his grandparents come from a hurling stronghold in County Kilkenny.
He described himself as a misfocused athlete — a high jumper who might have been a decathlete because of his all round talents — but he ended up assistant coach in his final year at North Carolina State University.
For those who might wonder why he came to Ireland, Ankrom said he left the USA to gain international experience.
“But I always wanted to be in Europe — the mecca of track and field,” he said.
And for those who might regard his arrival too late for next year’s Olympic Games he agreed in part but insisted he would be doing all he can to make sure the London 2012 athletes would have everything they needed.
“Those athletes will have their structures in place so you can’t make big structural changes,” he said. “But if there is one per cent of help you can give them then that one per cent of help could be the difference between not qualifying for a final and qualifying for a final or not getting a medal and getting a medal.
“If there can be something with nutrition we can help out with or if there is something around how our team support can help then those are the things we have to understand from these athletes and their coaches.
“But it’s not about what they want — it’s about what they need. That is probably the agree to disagree conversation I’ll have with those athletes and coaches because I know they should need.”
He may be in Ireland just a couple of weeks but he has already been talking to the likes of David Gillick, who is based in the US, and next weekend he will meet Derval O’Rourke and the other elite athletes who are at a warm weather training camp in Portugal.
“I am not going to be the bull in a china shop. You have to come in and encompass as much as you can and work on building and enhancing the things which they are doing really well. If, given the opportunity, I am able to look at plans and develop structures in the short term to help them that’s why I’m there. It’s going to take time to develop that relationship.”
He said the nature of the sport demanded a huge input from volunteers and this was something he would embrace.
“Federations are built up of amateurs who are volunteering a lot of time — to me that’s the bigger pathway of the sport,” he said.
“If we are talking about results at world championships, Olympics or world youth or Europeans it’s really important not to deal with the greater pathway but to deal with the professional pathway and create amateur transition to professional. I see that as part of my role.”
He also wants to address the critical period in athletics — as in every sport — which is the transition from junior to senior.
“Every country has a really good junior group, to a certain degree. You got some really good top-enders — you got some really good juniors. Where the systems fail across the world is that transition.
“That is specifically where I can make an impact.”
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